Epes’ Melissa Nishan Earns Recruiting Honor

2022 Recruiter of the Year panel
2022 Recruiter of the Year Melissa Nishan (right) of Epes Transport System Inc. is shown with finalists Kimberley Daigle of PS Logistics and Matt Duncan of Covenant Logistics. (Conversion Interactive Agency)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Melissa Nishan, vice president of driver recruiting at  Epes Transport System Inc., says she nearly fainted when she heard her name announced Feb. 17 as the Transport Topics Recruiting Professional of 2022.

“This award means a lot to me. It came from my peers in the trucking industry. This is voted on by my colleagues,” Nishan told TT. “The jobs that we do on the day-to-day basis on driver recruiting are challenging, ever-changing and some of the others who have won this award, many of them are mentors of mine.”

Also recognized at the ceremony, which was part of Conversion Interactive Agency’s Recruitment & Retention Conference, were finalists Matt Duncan, vice president of enterprise driver recruiting and talent acquisition at Covenant Logistics, and Kimberley Daigle, vice president of enterprise capacity development at PS Logistics. All three took part in a 45-minute panel discussion in front of more than 500 people.

Nishan has worked for Epes Transport for more than 12 years and was promoted to vice president five years ago. She has been in trucking for more than 20 years.

Melissa Nishan

Melissa Nishan of Epes Transport System attributed her career growth to taking advantage of available opportunities. (Conversion Interactive Agency)

“When I started at the first transportation job I had, I wanted to learn more and more about the industry,” she said. “Each time a new role came available that gave me the opportunity to learning something new, I asked for that position. This role at Epes became available, and I was very interested and I took a leap and I have enjoyed it ever since. It’s very rewarding.”

As Epes has expanded and because of normal turnover, Nishan said that in 2022 she and her team of nearly 25 recruiters and other HR professionals hired and onboarded 998 new drivers. Of those, 150 were because of new business while the others were due to retirements and drivers taking jobs elsewhere.

Nishan said while that figure may seem high, she points out the 92-year-old, Greensboro, N.C-based dry van carrier’s annual turnover rate was 53% in 2022, far below the estimated 90% rate for the industry.

“We’d like this to be lower, but our number is below the industry average,” she said.

Bob Costello

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello estimates trucking could be short 160,000 drivers by 2031 if the industry does not come up with long-term recruiting and reention solutions. (Conversion Interactive Agency)

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said he anticipates the truck driver shortage improving this year and believes the industry may need 65,000 new drivers, down from 78,000 in 2022. However, he said the shortage could exceed 160,000 drivers by 2031 if the industry does not address the issue with long-term solutions.

Nishan said those numbers are a wake-up call to make trucking a more attractive occupation. But she says it’s critical to find more good female candidates and people in underserved communities.

“There’s not just one magic button that you hit. But there are a lot of things that carriers need to work hard on, to retain these new drivers coming into the industry.” she said. “It’s become so competitive. There are a number of things we need to do to keep those core drivers. We need to get more women, minorities and others trained and trucking can make a difference in their careers.”

Nishan said keeping those drivers happy long term and having them spread the word about the working conditions, schedules, pay and benefits can make recruiting much more successful rather than ads and social media posts.

You always have to look at the things you are offering.

Melissa Nishan, Epes Transport System Inc.

“There will always be some drivers who move around, from company to company, but with 1,500 drivers, we all have a core percentage that have been with us a very long time,” she said. “There is that group, and we want to keep them happy and content. You always have to look at the things you are offering.”

This was not the first time that Nishan was nominated for the award: She has been a finalist twice.

“This is very exciting for me. I’ve been in this role with Epes for 12 years and in the industry for more than 20,” she said. “I’m still learning, from seminars, these conferences and talking to people.”

Now that Nishan is recognized as a top recruiter, she intends to help those who are in the position she was in more than 25 years ago.

“When I first got into trucking, I was one of the youngest and now there is more diversity in our field, with more women, and I’ve watched things change,” she said. “We have to do our part to help out. It takes all of us to make a difference.”

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